Star Trek: TNG Season 5 “The First Duty” and “Cost of Living”

Well, this is awkward to watch.

Well, this is awkward to watch.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“The First Duty”

Plot

The Enterprise is headed to earth and as they are inbound they discover that Wesley was involved in a training accident. He’s going to recover, but one of the five members of his flight crew was killed and an investigation is launched. As the inquiry continues, it turns out that the four remaining members have agreed to conceal their attempt to perform a highly dangerous maneuver and have instead appealed to the dead member making a pilot error that led to his death. Geordi and Data, however, discover that plasma ignited at the same time as the inquiry reveals a picture of the training craft in an unreported formation. Picard confronts Wesley and tells him that if he doesn’t come out with the truth, he will. Wesley does tell the truth, which leads to the leader of the flight crew being expelled and permanent reprimands on the rest of their records.

Commentary

The approach taken with the plot of this episode was thought out very well. As observers, we can tell something is wrong with Wesley, and as we see the pressure being put on him and the rest of the team by their flight leader, we can see that there is more to the story than meets the eye. But we don’t find out exactly what happened until about the time Picard reveals his own knowledge of it to Wesley following the investigation run by Geordi and Data.

Thus, we can understand Dr. Crusher’s concern and confusion regarding the situation and how the picture that demonstrates the falsehood of the flight crew’s story must be mistaken. There doesn’t seem another explanation. But the explanation is simple: they’re lying. It’s something that seems to go beyond the bounds of what we normally expect from Star Trek’s normally squeaky-clean world.

“The First Duty” is uncomfortable in that it makes us see things from both sides of a tragic event. The manipulative comments from the flight leader add to this discomfort. Picard’s epic tongue-lashing of Wesley seems both appropriate and well-deserved and it fits into the conversations Picard had with the groundskeeper.

I really loved this episode. Wesley has come into his own.

When my wife came up with a good score, but I gave it a super high score, I explained my reasoning to her thus: “It was like we got to witness all at once the threads that were put in place for Wesley’s development blossom and turn him into a beautiful flower, but then we watched it whither, only to be revivified in greater, but tarnished glory by Picard.”

Yep, that’s about how I feel about this episode. It was phenomenal.

Grade: A+ “It initially made Wesley suck, but then made him surprisingly admirable. Well done.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was interesting but it lacked the gravitas of better episodes.”

“Cost of Living”

Plot

Lwaxana Troi comes to the Enterprise to get married. As she struggles to deal with the implications of an arranged marriage, she tries to guide Alexander in his own path to self-awareness and freedom. They play around on the holodeck as tensions increase between Troi and her betrothed. Finally, she realizes that, like she did for Alexander, she needs to be herself. She shows up to the wedding in traditional Betazoid fashion: naked. The wedding is called off as her betrothed and his adviser are horrified and leave.

Commentary

This is an all-around weird episode. The interactions on the holodeck are a bit whimsical but also kind of creepy. The way that Lwaxana Troi tries to take over parenting of Alexander from Worf is left largely without comment. But there are a few things to like here as well. Troi becomes just a little bit less awful here–something it’s hard for me to admit–as she tries to realize her own needs alongside navigating Alexander towards his. There’s a kind of endearing sadness to Troi’s situation that makes you sympathize with her. Seeing her betrothed and his adviser absolutely flipping out about every little piece of protocol only added to the sympathy that was generated for Troi.

But really, having Alexander walk around saying random nonsense was a bit too much for me. Just stop it. Also, mud bath awkwardness. Just a weird episode.

I was surprised by the score difference between my wife and I here. She really liked it. I thought it was okay. I suppose my deep dislike of Lwaxana Troi might have contributed, but I just thought the episode was super weird.

Grade: C+ “Lwaxana Troi only barely ruins an episode. But seriously, this had some touching moments that were marred by a sense of strangeness and a throwaway side-plot.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It did a nice job exploring the challenges of responsibility and carefree living. It also had some very fun visuals in holodeck-land.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

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Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read-Through- “The Hutt Gambit” by A.C. Crispin

thg-crispin

Hutts and Boba Fett? Now we’re in trouble.

I have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Here, we go back to the future past to see the origins of Han Solo with book two of the Han Solo Trilogy, The Hutt Gambit by A.C. Crispin. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

The Hutt Gambit

The Hutt Gambit features an older Han than we saw in The Paradise Snare (see my review). Here, Han has been kicked out of the Imperial Navy because he saved Chewbacca from slavery. Thus, he’s “stuck” with Chewbacca, who has sworn him a life debt. They go off to work as smugglers, trying to save enough money to buy their own ship by working for the Hutts.

The plot is extremely character driven, but unlike the previous book, the side characters get serious development. The Hutts in particular get fully realized stories, with motivations to drive them and even a developed view of the world. Although there is little description of the planets themselves (more on that below), the Hutts that are met in the book are enough to make a great setting and a genuine feel of uniqueness–something that doesn’t always happen with all the aliens in Star Wars. The dialogue is fantastic. It reads as though it is actually people talking with different motivations and thoughts happening behind the words, which makes it feel real.

Reading The Hutt Gambit made me desperate to tread more by Crispin. I think I’ll go check out her other fiction at some point, because the way she writes characters is just phenomenal.

That said, there are some downsides to this book. There is very little development of the various places that are visited. We learn that the Hutt world, Nal Hutta, is swampy, but there aren’t really any descriptions of places or flora or fauna. It’s unfortunate because in many of the Star Wars novels, the planets themselves act as secondary characters in their own right, whether it is through physical hazards or unique locations or other features. Crispin is skimpy on these details and seems to leave locations largely to the readers’ imagination. This lack of description bleeds over into pretty much any scene of the book, as action largely takes place against a blank, imagined canvas. Again, this is a pretty major strike because Star Wars does seem to rely so heavily–and excel so much–in creating unique locations and settings throughout.

The Hutt Gambit is a thoroughly enjoyable read. It surpasses The Paradise Snare in many ways, and is a solid entry in the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

The Good

+Totally character driven
+Excellent plot
+Great action scenes
+Creates fully-realized background for Hutts

The Bad

-Not much description of planets or set scenes

Best Droid Moment

Hardly any droids means this category is sad

Grade: A “Thoroughly character-driven with plenty of action, intrigue, and ‘Star Wars’ feel, this is a great Star Wars book.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.

80s Fantasy Movie Review: “Conan The Barbarian”

CONAN

CONAN!

I embarked on a quest to watch through Tor’s list of 80s Fantasy. I haven’t seen many of those flicks, so I figured I’d watch through. Here, I examine “Conan the Barbarian”. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Review

“What is best in life?”
“To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women.”

Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

Okay, not it doesn’t.

“Conan the Barbarian” is just all-around epic. There’s no way to deny this. From the opening scene to the end, we are treated to an epic quest for revenge and overthrow of a really evil snake-cult thingy. The director apparently decided to just throw in all kinds of awesome moments just because. Conan and gang paint themselves with a cool black camo pattern that doesn’t camouflage them at all in the setting they enter. Why have that detail then? Because they look awesome. And that pretty much summarizes the vast majority of this film. Why do things happen the way they do? Not because of some intricate overarching plot. No, the reason things happen is because they are awesome.

Does this quest for epic always work? No. Some moments fall flat, and the amount of gratuitous nudity is very off-putting for me. However, the number of moments the quest for epic works outnumbers the moments it doesn’t work to such a degree that the epic easily wins out.

Speaking of epic, the music. THE MUSIC! Wow. I can’t tell you how well-suited the music was to this film. It basically made the movie twice as good as it would have been otherwise. You can’t help but be swept away by the Wagner-esque orchestral pieces throughout, and they always add to the atmosphere in just the right way.

The characters, it must be admitted, are very paper-thin. There’s not a lot (any, really) backstory for them. Heck, there’s not a lot of story here at all. Conan’s family is killed by this snake cult. He is enslaved and basically through a life of heavy labor and forced gladiator combat becomes an awesome warrior. Then he is set free and decides to pursue vengeance against the snake cult, who just so happen to be super evil too.

On the way he picks up Valeria, an awesome warrior-thief-woman, and Subhotai, whose skill set is unclear but increases over the course of the movie. Basically the movie feels like an awesome Dungeons & Dragons campaign in movie format. You form the party, throw some reason for them all to be together in there, and set them off on a wild adventure. Meanwhile, the director/Dungeon Master just throws stuff in because it sounds like it’d be cool. Yep, that’s this movie.

I loved it.

The Good

+Super epic music
+BARBARIAN!
+Consistently entertaining
+Multiple awesome moments and quotes
+Genuinely feels like an epic quest

The Bad

-Gratuitous and unnecessary nudity in parts
-Characters and overall story are paper-thin

The Verdict

Grade: “Consistently epic, ‘Conan’ feels exactly like an epic fantasy adventure should.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Time to Watch some 80s Fantasy Flicks– I describe my quest to watch a bunch of 80s fantasy movies. This post also features links to all the reviews done so far.

A Ranking of 1980s Fantasy that would please Crom Himself– The original list of movies that made me embark on this quest.

SDG.

Star Trek: TNG Season 5 – “The Outcast” and “Cause and Effect”

...We need to talk.  Never has that sentiment been more ominous.

…We need to talk.
Never has that sentiment been more ominous.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“The Outcast”

Plot

The J’naii are an androgynous people who don’t experience gender. Soren, one of the J’naii, works closely with Riker to solve the mystery of a few of their people who have disappeared into what appears to be null space. The two discuss human and J’naii sexuality and the various aspects of the same, and Soren reveals that she is gendered, which is dangerous because the J’naii brainwash and recondition those who express being gendered. Back on the J’naii’s planet, the two kiss, but the sexuality of Soren is discovered and she is captured. Riker and Worf try to rescue her, but it is too late–she has already been reconditioned.

Commentary

The episodes in which TNG explores moral issues are usually quite interesting, and “The Outcast” is no different. It’s a tough topic and it touches on highly relevant issues for today. Questions of gender identity and gender dysphoria are at the forefront today, and it looks like TNG was looking ahead in this regard for bringing up issues of sexuality. That said, it seemed the episode didn’t do a very good job of presenting the complexity of the issue on either side. The J’naii are portrayed as uniformly terrible in regards to the issue, with hardline views that allow for no compromise. On the other hand, Riker and others go to the opposite extreme. Sure, it has to all fit into one episode, but a less black-and-white picture of the discussion would have been appreciated.

That said, it’s a pretty good episode with plenty of intrigue and some genuinely hard moments. The ending was particularly rough on Riker, who has really unfortunate things happen to his love interests very often. Poor Riker.

Probably the biggest problem with the plot of this one is how compressed it is. I get that TNG needs the Enterprise to keep moving, and it wouldn’t necessarily make much sense to have the episode take place over a longer period of time, but it really felt like Riker and Soren’s romance was contrived. It’s hard to take Riker seriously when he talks about how important Soren is to him and how he’s willing to throw away his Starfleet career because of this person he met just a few days before. I know that such whirlwind romances are common in TNG, and apparently sometimes in “real life,” too, but it’s just really hard to take it seriously.

Grade: B “Difficult questions raised in a compelling fashion, but the ‘believability’ quotient was low.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was pretty good. There were some abrupt plot jumps that brought the quality of the story down.” 

“Cause and Effect”

Plot

The Enterprise is caught in a time loop with only a few indications of what is going on for the crew to try to figure out in a very short time period. They race through each day trying to discover what’s happening and eventually manage to send a message, via Data, to warn themselves. Ultimately, they are able to change the decision that gets the ship destroyed and re-loops time, thus also saving the crew of another Starfleet ship… which was trapped 80 years ago.

Commentary

The plot summary doesn’t really grasp how delightfully complex this episode was. Having the same scenes shot from different angles with very minor differences was a genius way to illustrate what’s happening, and the fact that it never really feels repetitive shows the mastery the director had in filming it.

I found myself looking for the most minute details to see if I could figure out what was going on and how to solve it ahead of the crew, and episodes that keep you guessing like this are great. Trying to figure out what the clue sent through Data meant was a blast, and although it felt a little bit forced, it was still an exciting way to solve the problem.

The ending is pretty bleak, which anyone who’s kept up on these posts will know I like. Nothing like a smack of reality in the face at the end of an episode. Picard basically says “We need to talk…” and it ends. I really wonder how that conversation went. “Sorry, everyone you know is dead… you’re 80 years in the future and stuck here.”

That would be something to chew on for a while.

Grade: A “A great mystery episode with a tough-crap ending. Fantastic drama.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “There was a good plot and good acting throughout. Well done Star Trek!”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.